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Happy days are (almost) here again

Doha, 7 December 2022: Who doesn’t love a bit of Bing Crosby? The genial American crooner and actor – notable star of The Road to Hong Kong with buddy Bob Hope – always saw the sunny side of life, as illustrated by one of his biggest hits:

You got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
E-lim-i-nate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mr In-between

John Lee would concur. Our Chief Executive wants us to tell good stories about our great city to combat the perceived negative narrative of overseas media. This has been a constant theme of his first six months in office and fully in keeping with the campaign slogan for his (unopposed) election, “Starting a New Chapter for Hong Kong Together”.

No sooner were his feet under the table than he was accentuating the positive at the July launch of the first English volume of the Hong Kong Chronicles – an 800-page, 360,000-word tome published by the Hong Kong Chronicles Institute that aims to present an objective record of the city’s heritage and history. “This is a fresh opportunity to tell the success story of Hong Kong,” he enthused.

Next, he unveiled a new task force led by Financial Secretary Paul Chan to bring in 1,000 prominent political, business and media leaders from mainland China and other countries on sponsored visits in a major public relations drive. “We have to show the city is a good place where people can make their dreams come true,” he announced in his first Policy Address. Mr Lee also led by example at an Asian economic forum in Bangkok last month, trumpeting to regional leaders our city’s numerous opportunities. “Hong Kong is where the China advantage and international advantage converge in a single city,” he told them.

So, putting aside our outdated pandemic restrictions, lack of tourists, economic woes and ongoing talent drain, here is a selection of feel-good stories. First, there is the welcome news that some of our primary school pupils have returned to in-person, whole-day classes for the first time in nearly three years. Yes, finally! Granted, only 67 out of roughly 500 schools have made the switch so far and, of course, all students are still required to conduct daily rapid antigen tests, but it is welcome progress. Education chiefs are hopeful most primary schools will have resumed full-day classes by the end of January.

A brighter outlook as well for our battered airline industry. Hong Kong’s airport has officially opened its third runway – a Cathay Pacific flight from Perth touched down to warm applause – as the Airport Authority talks up the prospect of recovery. It says air passenger traffic is expected to climb to between 60 and 70% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of next year and return to normal by 2024. As well, Cathay says it has hired 1,800 new staff since July as part of its plan to increase capacity as the sector bounces back.

There’s more. Hong Kong tops a global ranking survey for use of public transport. The city is No.1 in the inaugural public transit listings contained in the Urban Mobility Readiness Index, presented by the Oliver Wyman Forum in partnership with the University of California. We are praised for our “affordable transport network” that has “high station density and a strong rail network for the city’s large population”. Hong Kong sits a respectable 16th (San Francisco is top) in the overall index.

The feel-good factor, I’m happy to confirm, extends to the World Cup here in Qatar, where my beloved England are through to the last eight (they face holders France next, which makes for good-natured banter with my French son-in-law Vincent), as are underdogs Morocco, a huge fillip for both African and Arabian football. I’m even happy we have two days without action before the quarter-finals commence. Having attended 21 matches in just over two weeks, I need a break.

My presence here, of course, precluded my attendance at last week’s Ally Law Asia Pacific Regional Meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Positive vibes there, as well, as delegates relished the region’s first gathering in three years. My thanks to colleagues Fiona Chan and April Kong for attending. I can also recommend tuning in to our latest Law & More podcast to hear the thoughts of Christine Loh. One of Hong Kong’s best-known public figures, Christine radiates energy and epitomises the city’s can-do spirit. Please listen.

So many glad tidings, if only our health officials would follow suit. Alas, their regular press briefings continue to offer only gloom and doom about the pandemic. We have high population immunity coupled with relatively low hospitalisations and fatalities, yet they still focus on new daily infections (9,952 yesterday) as if this is the only statistic that matters. Confirmed cases? When it comes to Covid-19 test results, I wish they wouldn’t accentuate the positives.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

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